Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Review: Rain Forest Adventures

Rain Forest AdventuresRain Forest Adventures is comprised of short, two to three page stories that are interesting and informative, depicting the habitat and behaviors of many rain forest creatures. These stories can be read in approximately five to ten minutes or less, and, like other books in this series, each chapter concludes with a short spiritual lesson. Children will likely benefit from further discussion following these lessons as it is somewhat difficult to convey the context and meaning of a Scripture in a few, short sentences.

There were a number of times when Banner's theology seemed ambiguous. For example, he wrote:

"There is nothing at all a caterpillar can do about its future state. It either becomes a butterfly or a moth, according to its kind. It cannot choose between light and darkness. We can. We can be good or bad. We can obey God or disobey Him. We can be saved or lost. And it is for us to choose...Deuteronomy 30:19, 20" (pg 51).

Later, we read:

"It is clear to me that there are two natures common to all men. If we are honest with ourselves we can recognize their presence in our own hearts. We can see them at work in our children. In young and old alike is the conflict between good and bad. Few will dare say that they are all good, yet none will denounce themselves as wholly bad...There is a way, not only to get away from sin but also to keep away. Paul gives us the answer: 'I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.' " at which point Banner quotes James 4:7, 8 (pg. 54).

There were also unclear statements such as "nature" provided emus with long necks (pg. 8) and "As they [termites] contact Mother Earth, they shed their flimsy wings…" (pg. 89).

Ultimately, Banner writes to encourage children to lay up treasures in heaven, to follow Christ who is "the Way", and to fight the good fight of faith. Readers will find themselves challenged to count the cost of following Christ and to persevere during hardship. Along the way, children will also learn many surprising facts about rain forest life. With detailed descriptions of hunting expeditions and forest dangers, Rain Forest Adventures will likely capture the attention of many children (around ages 7-12), especially those particularly interested in wildlife, hunting, and/or the rain forest habitat.

(Note: Several stories are probably not best suited for the sensitive at heart. There is a description of an anaconda attacking a disobedient boy in the river (complete with sketch), as well as, numerous references to killer piranha fish  that only attack where there is bleeding, not to mention wild boars and boa constrictors.)

*My sincere thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Antarctic Adventures

"The Antarctic is a world of snow and ice. It is a cold and inhospitable place to live but many animals including the impressive Emperor penguin live and breed there. Fur seals and albatrosses are also native to this icy land. However, it is one of the smallest creatures of all - the Krill - that is of vital importance to life there. Find out about the natural habitat, the history of the explorers and the people who are today doing their utmost to protect this sensitive environment. Throughout it all you will see the beauty of creation as well as learning what God can teach you about himself through his world and his word."
 According to my ten-year-old daughter, Antarctic Adventures is interesting and informative. I agree. Ms. Hill's writing is sure to appeal to a wide variety of youngsters, aged 7-12, as she weaves stories of explorers, scientists, and their expeditions with information about the habitat and creatures of the Antarctic. Some may not necessarily agree with all of the author's assertions (ex. man-made global warming), however, her exhortations (ex. be a good steward of God's creation) are no less relevant.

Each chapter of Antarctic Adventures concludes with a spiritual lesson. The lessons would be my only hesitation with this book as they seemed to be somewhat weak (especially when compared to other Christian Focus titles). For example, in the third story, Ms. Hill shares about a scientist who failed to reach his goals but who still contributed valuable research through his failed expedition. She, then, reminds us of Joseph and the trials in his life. She writes:
"...he never complained. He did the work he was asked to do and he did it the best way he could. When things went wrong for him he didn't ask 'why', rather he thought 'what shall I do now?' People learnt to trust him and in the end he became the Pharaoh's trusted right hand man, a position of great honour in Egypt. You may sometimes think that something is 'not fair', that you have done your best, but no one appreciates it. All that matters is that God knows you can be trusted to do the very best you can" (pg. 22).
While it is Biblical that one "do the very best" he/she can (1 Cor. 10:31), this is certainly not "all that matters". Furthermore, it seems to miss the more valuable lesson that God, in His sovereignty, sent Joseph before his brothers to preserve a remnant for Himself (Gen. 45). "All that matters" is that we trust this sovereign God who sent His Son to die on the cross in the place of sinful man that a remnant might come to Him. It matters little if "God knows you can be trusted..."; He is faithful, even when His people are not. There are many other similar examples throughout this book. Ultimately, Antarctic Adventures did not present a clear Gospel message as do other Christian Focus titles. Although this would be expected from a more scientific work, it was disappointing nonetheless given the more than fifteen "spiritual lessons" throughout the book. :(

All-in-all, Antarctic Adventures is a fascinating read. It includes exciting information about scientists racing to the South Pole; helpful scientific explanations (ex. the difference between the fixed South Pole and the Magnetic South Pole and its role with respect to southern lights); unexpected traveling companions; useful inventions; a map, quiz, and more. Antarctic Adventures gives its reader a taste of the subject matter and encourages him/her to do additional research. Young people who are interested in this topic should find it a useful introductory resource. However, one might want to discuss the spiritual applications further.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Christian Focus Publications for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!